You can’t beat a spring day in the nation’s capital. Sun came streaming over the Capitol dome early on Saturday and illuminated Kingman Island, the site of Washington, D.C.’s 2016 Opening Day for Trails celebration. The island, which rests in the Anacostia River, was soon overflowing with trail lovers ready to pitch in. And just like baseball’s Opening Day each spring, the excitement was palpable.
This year, RTC’s National Office teamed up with Living Classrooms, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and REI to celebrate. The day began with a stewardship event on Kingman Island in preparation for a bluegrass and folk festival in May. Living Classrooms President Lee Cain and his team coordinated nearly 300 volunteers to remove invasive species and clear a new walking trail. After a few hours of hard work, participants returned to the main meadow to celebrate with lunch and live music!
A hot item this year was the REI Village (a co-op on wheels comprising an outdoor hammock area and community space with yard games, national parks information, and lanyard and sunglass-making stations) where participants and volunteers could interact and relax in the shade.
In the afternoon, WABA’s Trail Rangers—a consistent and helpful presence on four of DC’s paved trails—led a bike ride along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (ART), touring both sides of the river and sharing tips about best access points to the trail. (The Trail Ranger program is funded through a grant from the District Department of Transportation [DDOT]. Trail Rangers are charged with assisting trail users with directions and minor bike maintenance issues, improving trail conditions and working with city agencies to keep the trails properly maintained.)
The much anticipated Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens segment of the ART was on everyone’s minds and was a hot topic of conversation. So what’s the buzz all about?
The Kenilworth segment will connect the ART from Benning Road north along the Anacostia River to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a site that was saved from dredging in the 1930s and was designated a National Park in 1938. Today, the Aquatic Gardens are full of biodiversity and are a must-visit location for water lily lovers, bird-watchers and D.C. residents looking for respite from the urban bustle. From there, the trail continues to the D.C.-Maryland line, reaches out into the river on raised platforms, swoops under Route 50 and then returns to shore. The pathway continues all the way to an existing section of the ART that brings riders and walkers to Bladensburg Waterfront Park. The Kenilworth segment is relatively short at just 4 miles but will have an immense impact.
When completed, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail will cover 28 miles, connecting communities and destinations along the way. It will also connect to the Anacostia Tributary Trails System, opening up incredible opportunities for access throughout Prince George’s County in Maryland. In fact, this is the missing link in a network of nearly 70 miles of connected trails!
The community cares about closing the gap in the trail because it positively affects bike and pedestrian access—both in D.C. and in terms of providing a direct link to Prince George’s County, according to Greg Billing, executive director of WABA. “The excitement for the trail's opening reflects how valued this path is when complete. This is more than a piece of infrastructure; it's a new connection within our community."
For WABA Trail Ranger Tariq Daniels, the trail connection means getting closer to his family. “That’s a route to my sister’s house, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the connection. She doesn’t ride a bike yet, but the trail might get her and her daughters to pick it up,” says Daniels.
The construction crews are working hard on the new trail, and the new ART section is slated to open this fall. Opening Day gave us the opportunity to share the good news and harness the excitement around this vital connection.
We had an amazing time this year on Opening Day for Trails, but it was so much more than just a party. The event was a way to amplify the excitement around trails and show their importance to nearby neighborhoods and adjacent communities. It was a trailside party with a purpose, and as the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail nears completion, we anticipate many more to come!